After our discussion with Laura Meadows today, I thought it would be interesting to look at the Ferguson movement in terms of Bernstein and Meadows’ research.
First, the social movement in Ferguson is identified as using both instrumental and identity logic of action, but seems to be mostly externally oriented. The movement is instrumental because the city residents have used a variety of protests that aimed at seeking specific goals, such as the release of the involved police officer’s name and later the call for his arrest. They have also circulated a petition for institution of cameras to monitor police behavior, and asked the government to start an investigation into the police department for abuses/wrong-doing.
Bernstein would see Ferguson’s movement for the logic of action it employs, especially given the context of the community’s situation in contemporary society. The idea of getting out a certain message ties into Laura Meadow’s research, the identity of action side of this movement would likely be looking to change society’s perspectives of their community, not a voting majority. However, the instrumental side that is looking to get an investigation or petition passed will be seeking a voting majority to approve their goals.
These collective actions seek to encourage empowerment of community members, and to increase democratic participation or representation of the community. Within the Ferguson movement, anyone who believes in the cause may join the movement, indicating Bernstein’s idea of inclusivity. By involving the community to rally around justice for a college-bound teen the movement can create a platform for asking for the implementation of new policies such as the cop cameras.
When journalists were allowed into the city, or arrested, they could provide pictures, videos, and details of the situation on the streets that added a dimension to the police’s information. However, as Bernstein points out, if public officials are not receptive to the community, the movement’s goals won’t be recognized. This miscommunication, lack of information, and general dissatisfaction between the community and most of the city and state officials seems to indicate that the community is struggling to reach a receptive polity. The absence of a receptive polity is one of the critical problems with the Ferguson movement gaining traction, seeing as it took three weeks before a federal investigation was launched.
At the same time, the movement is also looking to change cultural perspectives, stereotyping, and framing of black people and communities. The “#IfTheyGunnedMeDown,” is an example of how the movement seeks to change the framing and stereotyping associated with media stories involving black people and communities. As journalists, we are taught that the media doesn’t tell us how to think, but what to think about. If this movement can change how the media portrays black or minority crime victims then we can start to change the way that society thinks about these stereotypes. The movement’s goal to have regular people portrayed as they were in everyday life rather than using a compromising picture to frame a story in a certain light was the aim of the “#IfTheyGunnedMeDown,” campaign.
I think Bernstein’s dimensions of identity as a goal and identity as a strategy can be applied to Ferguson. A fundamental goal of the campaign is the change the stigma of black communities as places of rampant crime and chaos, using Michael Brown as an example of how these communities are in reality. The peaceful protesting is a form of collective action that the movement uses to also enforce this goal, instead of inciting violence and reinforcing a social stereotype.
I think that identity for deployment and identity for critique in Ferguson are connected in that by presenting the identity of the community or of Mike Brown, they allow for their values and practices to be critiqued, but they also use those critiques as a challenge to the “dominant” culture’s views. In this case, many people focused on Brown’s college future, and the hope his family had to create a good life for himself, which is a hope that most Americans can identify with. Rather than focusing on race, they focus on a human concern.
Finally, the opposition to this campaign seems to stem from cultural perspectives that have been associated with the South since the 1800s. An opposition movement to the Ferguson movement supports Officer Wilson’s decision to shoot Brown, in self-defense, or otherwise, because their views of the black community are negative. This seems to be routine opposition – those who would support the Ferguson police regardless of the situation.
Unfortunately, it will be harder for Ferguson to implement policies to combat any discrimination because there is little, if any, representation of the black community in their city government. Without a receptive ear, it will take more effort and time to get the Ferguson movement’s goals accomplished. Peaceful protests were an effort for the movement to tailor around a city government and police force that doesn’t agree with their goals. However, conflicts on the side of the protestors (of looting, shooting at police, etc.) and the police (tear gassing protestors, using rubber bullets, armored vehicles, etc.) have not cast the best light on either the movement or the city.
The situation is still developing, especially with the launch of the investigation into the police department, and the movement, its goals or its messages may change. There are many different stories and facets to the Ferguson movement that have been interesting to analyze in the context of Bernstein and Meadow’s research. The movement itself has reached beyond our borders with Russian and Iraqi officials and journalists commenting on how the federal government is handling the situation in Missouri, and it will be critical to the movement to see how the next couple of weeks play out.
1. Bernstein, M. (1997). Celebration and Suppression: The Strategic Uses of Identity by the Lesbian and Gay Movement. American Journal of Sociology, 103(3), 531-565.
2. Lopez, German. “How Did Police Handle the Protests in Ferguson, Missouri?” Vox. N.p., 27 Aug. 2014. Web. 30 Aug. 2014.
3. “Watchdog Groups Slam Ferguson Police ‘harassment’ of Reporters.” RT USA. N.p., 20 Aug. 2014. Web. 30 Aug. 2014.
4. Mackey, Robert. “Russia, Iran and Egypt Heckle U.S. About Tactics in Ferguson.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Aug. 2014. Web. 30 Aug. 2014.
5. Ready, Justin T., and Jacob T.N. Young. “Three Myths About Police Body Cams.” Slate Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Sept. 2014.